Monday, October 23, 2006

Cheap Chic Wine Tasting Party!

Yes, even on a tight budget you can afford to have a cheap chic wine tasting party! It's a wonderful way to celebrate any occasion and can be adapted to any taste and budget.

Okay, here's the plan.... invite about 8 to 10 people (4-5 couples) or more, or less. Ask each person/couple to bring a bottle of wine according to the type of wine and price range that you've designated. For example... a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for under $10.00. Or, you could choose all Chardonneys or Merlots, etc... depending on your taste. Designate an amount per bottle ($7.00 or less, $10.00 or less, $15.00 or less, etc...). Have each person/couple bring a favorite hors d'oeuvre (appetizer) and their own wine glass to use during the party. You can make little name tags for each glass using a small piece of paper and punching a hole in the corner. Then use a piece of string, yarn or ribbon to tie the tag to the stem of each wine glass and have the person write their name on it. This insures being able to keep track of one's own glass. After five or six tastes of wine a person can get confused and possibly loose their glass, ha ha!

As each person arrives at the party place the bottle of wine they've brought into a brown paper lunch sack. Tie a piece of string, yarn or ribbon around the top of the sack, or put a piece of tape around it. Using a marker pen, write an assigned number on each sack beginning with the number 1, for the first bottle that arrives, etc.... Give each person a piece of paper and a pen . Instruct them that while tasting a particular bottle to write down the corresponding number of the bag and any tasting notes about that wine next to the number. Then give that wine a rating between 1 and 5 (5 being best, 1 being worst). After everyone has tasted and rated all of the wines, gather all of the papers and add up the scores to determine the best and worst rated bottles. Then announce the scores and unveil the bottles to reveal each wine and how it was rated! It is fun to have a small prize for the person that brought the top rated wine. This could be a bottle of wine, a corkscrew or a small candle, etc... It is also fun to have a "booby prize" for the worst rated wine. This could be something like a silly candy from the Dollar Store or a second hand book or funny candle, etc... from the thrift store. Use your imagination!

If you want to something extra for your party, you could make a big pot of soup and serve it in mugs with warm french bread after the appetizers and the wine tastings are finished. My "Rainy Day Chicken Soup" is perfect for this! The recipe is on this blog under the title "Chicken Soup for the Anxiety Ridden Soul". I will be posting a recipe for Albondigas (meatball soup) here very soon. This would be great to serve with red wines. If you are having a party during the spring or summer you could make a chicken salad or pasta salad and serve it with bread. See my "cheap chic pasta salad" on this blog under the title "Too Hot to Cook".

Now for a dessert idea.... make cupcakes (from a cake mix) and frost with a can of frosting. Make a fresh pot of coffee (Folgers is cheap) and/or some herbal tea (Dollar Store) with honey, lemon and milk!

Wow, you really can have a chic wine tasting party for very cheap!!!
Cheers! Stacey

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Carson's Little Gourmet Sandwiches

I know, I know, all of my posts are about food lately! It seems like when I'm the most broke, I'm more obsessed with food. I think it because I'm afraid I'm not going to have enough or something. Anyway here's another great little recipe that my son, Carson, actually made up. At first I thought it sounded weird because it's a melted cheese sandwich with produce on it. I was thinking my lettuce would get soggy, but it didn't, so okay here's the recipe....

Carson's Grilled Cheese Veggie Sandwich

2 pieces of bread (any kind, I like sourdough)
Slices of Pepper Jack Cheese (or any cheese you like)
Butter or Marg. (I like "Smart" because there's no trans fats)
Tomato slices
Lettuce (crispy is good... iceberg, romaine hearts...)
Salt and Pepper

Place the cheese slices between the bread slices
Butter the outsides of the sandwich/bread pieces
Grill in a frying pan on med-high on either side till golden brown
Pull sandwich apart, place tomato and lettuce between bread slices
Salt and Pepper
Put sandwich back together

The flavor of the melted cheese and the tomatoe and crispy lettuce together is soooooo good. I didn't even want to try it but my son, Carson (18yrs), talked me into it. Of course, he also talked me in to trying a peanut butter and pickle sandwich too. Amazingly enough it was pretty good! No, I'm not pregnant!

Eat up!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cajun Delight for under $10.00

We're talking cheap and spicy here! My cajun blackeyed peas and rice are sure to please.

Cajun Delight

1 tbls oil (I use Olive)
1/2 Onion - chopped
1/2 green pepper - chopped
2-3 Cloves Garlic - minced
1 Celery stalk - chopped (optional)
1 14oz Can Tomatoes - chopped
1/4 tsp Red Pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
4-5 dashes of Hot Sauce (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 8oz Can Tomato Sauce
2 14oz Cans Blackeyed Peas - rinsed and drained (any brand)

Saute the first 5 ingredients for about 5 minutes then add the tomatoes with juice. Add seasonings, tomato sauce and blackeyed peas. Stir and let simmer for 10-15 minutes (uncovered).

Cook a cup or two of long grain white rice according to package directions.

Serve rice with blackeyed pea mixture over the top. It kicks cajun butt!

Note: For extra heartiness add 2-3 sliced hotlinks into the pea mixture while cooking but otherwise this is a great vegetarian meal.

Serve with a green salad on the side.

Happy cheap eats!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Too Hot to Cook!

Well yes, it is summer and as my Dad would say, "it's a bot hitch out there"! Just switch the first letters around and you'll know what I mean, lol! Anyway, it's just too hot to cook or to eat anything that's really hot and cooked. No more chicken soup, even if it does relieve anxiety. Hmm, what can I make that's cheap, filling and healthy and could also be a chic dish to be taken to a BBQ or picnic. Pasta Salad you say? Okay I didn't say "low carb". A few years ago during the "low fat" trend this would have been just the ticket. I think the key is to add a lot of healthy veggies along with "some" about a pound, ha ha! I've recently discovered a new trick to making the pasta salad more flavorful. Instead of using bottled Italian dressings as I've done in the past, I now use olive oil and balsamic vinegar with my dollar store Italian herbs. Also, you can add some cooked (leftover) chicken, beef or fish, whatever. This adds protien and makes a complete meal. This might sound weird but I opened a can of tuna, drained it, broke it up with a fork and sprinkled some on top of my pasta salad. It took on a great flavor when mixed with the oil, vinegar, herbs and pasta and provided that extra protien for a complete meal. Okay here's my recipe...

"Cheap Chic" Pasta Salad

1 lb (16oz) of cooked pasta - any kind ($.50 @ Dollar Store)
1/4 cup chopped Sun Dried Tomatoes in oil ($3.99 Jar @ Costco)*
1 or 2 fresh chopped Tomatoes
1/4 cup (about 1/2 a medium) Onion - any kind, white/purple/green
2 or 3 cloves of minced Garlic or 1 - 2 tsp of Garlic Powder (Dollar Store)
2 tsp Italian Herb Seasoning (Dollar Store)
1/4 cup (about 1/2 medium) chopped Bell Pepper - any color
1/4 cup (or small can) chopped/drained Black Olives - or green
1 crown of chopped Broccoli (raw or steamed)**
2 stalks chopped Celery (mince some leaves and add for extra flavor)
3 - 4 tbls Olive Oil (or other salad oil that you have on hand)***
3 - 4 tbls Balsamic Vinegar (or other vinegar that you have on hand)***
Salt and Pepper
Parmesean Cheese sprinkled on top (I used leftover packets from the pizza joint)

Put all of these ingredients (in this order) into a large bowl. Mix together with your bare hands (washed of course). Then taste and adjust seasoning/oil/vinegar. Sprinkle with cheese. Add any meat or fish on top and you have a beautiful summer meal!

* Sun dried tomatoes are optional but what a deal @ $3.99 for a large
jar at Costco. I use them in everything (pasta, rice, veggies, salads).
You may substitute this for a couple of spoons full of the Classico Pesto (any kind) in a jar.

** A crown of Broc is "a head" or "a bunch", whatever. It's about a
pound. I steam mine in the Micro for 3 1/2 minutes till tender, let it cool,
chop and add to salad.

*** You can use more or less oil and vinegar according to your taste.
I never measure, I just drizzle and sprinkle. So I'm kinda guessing
at these measurements.

Extra Note: You can use any kind of cheese that you have
or eliminate the cheese all together. I always save the packets of Parm.
cheese from the pizza joint because it can be so expensive
to buy this cheese and why waste those little packets anyway?!


Friday, June 30, 2006

Cheap & Healthy Fiesta Dinner!

Tonight we had a "Cheap & Healthy Fiesta" Dinner! I found a package of 10 flour tortillas for a buck at the dollar store! Also at Albertson's (next door) I found a large can of spicy "Rosarita" refried beans for $1.50 and an 8oz package of Tillamook cheddar cheese on sale for $2.50. I zapped the beans in the microwave and warmed the tortillas in foil in the oven @ 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. I grated the cheese and opened/drained a can of .50 cent corn (dollar store). I bought an 8oz container of sour cream and a small bottle of Tapatio hot sauce for .99 cents each. I chopped up some fresh onions, tomatoes and purple cabbage from the farmer's market (cheap). We put together some awesome little gourmet taco/burrito's. I made a box of spanish rice-a-roni ($1.00 on sale) and we had that too. I bought a bag of tortilla chips on sale for $1.99 and made some homemade salsa (recipe below). This was an awesome little feast and there was plenty of food to feed my son's band mates after their rehearsal. This is a great meal for hungry teen's and it's vegetarian which always wins points!

Salsa Recipe:

1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (Italian style is best)
1-2 fresh tomatoes, chopped (adds fresh texture)
1/2 cup chopped onion (white, green, purple, whatever)
2 fresh jalepeno peppers, seeded & chopped (or an 8oz can chopped)
1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
A few shots of Tapatio (or other hot sauce)
A couple of splashes of vinegar (I use red wine vinegar)
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp Cumin
Salt and pepper

Hand mix in a "salsa blender" or pulse in a food processor or blender. Or, finely chop all ingredients by hand.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Chicken Soup for the Anxiety Ridden Soul

Okay, this may seem kinda weird, being that it's summer and all, but yesterday I had a craving for homemade chicken soup. I'm trying to figure out why because it's summer with temps in the 90's outside. The only thing I can think of is that I'm really craving some comfort and stability right now. Of coarse this probably relates to finances, or lack there of. My husband's business has run out of "moola" and the other "investment capital" hasn't come through yet, so there's NO paycheck coming in. Yikes, are we gonna be homeless or what? Fear, Fear! We do own our van now (we finally paid that sucker off) so maybe we could live in that...NOT! I might consider it if dear hubby didn't hold the world's record for the LOUDEST snorring in the universe! Ok, I don't want to even go there or even think about the possibility of being homeless. Oh help me Lord! Anyway enough about my financial problems and on to the very awesome soup that I made yesterday and that I'm still eating today, yum!

I purchased these fairly cheap, thinly sliced chicken breasts thingy's. "Chicken Tenders" I believe they're called. It amounted to about one pound of chicken. I cut these up into small bits and sauteed (fried) them in a dutch oven "the big pan" with a little oil. Then I added 1/2 onion chopped and about 4 cloves of minced garlic. Then 6 cans of chicken broth (cheap store brand) and 2 teaspoons of Italian Seasoning (dollar store). I sliced up 3-4 carrots and 3 spears of celery and added them. I brought all this to a boil and added 1/2 cup of rice (Dollar Store) and a 14oz can of chopped tomatoes (Dollar Store). I let this simmer about 20 minutes till the rice was tender and then I added a 14 oz can of white beans (rinsed and drained). You can add whatever beans you happen to have. Then I added 1 cup of fresh chopped zucchini (Free). A friend gave me a large one from his garden. You could substitute a cup of peas, frozen or canned and drained. You can add a little hot sauce sauce or other spices of your choice. Oh, I almost forgot. I squeezed the juice of one fresh lemon (from a friend's tree) into the pot and added 1/4 cup of the my favorite cheap (Gallo Twin Valley) Chardonnay (optional). I let the soup simmer about another 10 more minutes and garnished (topped) it with chopped green onions and fresh cilanto. Gourmet all the way! I think just going through the motions of making this soup relieved some anxiety. That and the glass of the cheap wine I drank while making it, lol! I ate little bowls of this soup all day for lunch, dinner, snack, midnight snack, 3:00am snack (when I couldn't sleep due to anxiety) and I ate some for breakfast this morning too. Yes, I did save some for my son and hubby to try, ha! This recipe makes a lot.

So go make a big pot of chicken soup when you're feeling anxious. It's cheap, it's easy, it's fast and it's good for you! Oh and don't forget the vino while you're making it!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I "Heart" the Dollar Tree!

Without the dollar store, I literally would not have survived that past couple of years! Or I would have just had bad breath, rotten teeth, stinky pits, dirty (limp) hair, dirty laundry, various hygiene issues and a lot less food to eat. What, with a husband getting laid off and gasoline prices going through the "sun" roof, etc.. The dollar store has carried us through many times of crisis. And yes, I used to be one of those (yuppie) Mom's that had no problem paying over $3.00 for a tube of toothpaste and the list goes on, but that was pre- 9/11, pre- layoff, pre- over $3.00 a gallon gasoline. I've been forced to discovered the almighty "Dollar Store". I now live that dollar store reality/mentality. Hey, how do you know when you're really, really broke? It's when you can't even afford something at the dollar store and let me tell ya, I've been there, as I'm sure many of you have. I think even if I do gain access to more money in the future. such as a bigger paycheck or just "a" paycheck, I swear, as God is my witness, I will continue to shop at the dollar store. It just makes good sense! Who knows, I may also make a dress out of curtains (ie: Scarlett O'Hara). So anyway, check out the nearest and dearest Dollar Tree/99cent store (whatever), near you and cross off some of those items on your grocery list and save LOTS AND LOTS OF MOOLA too!

Happy shopping ya'll,

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Comfort Food is Back!

I've been reading in recent editions of those fancy gourmet food magazines that "comfort food" is making a comeback. Many of the best restaurants in town are currently offering dishes such as meatloaf and mash potatoes on their menus. Some attribute this trend to feelings of insecurity in an unsettled world. Having some of Mom's meatloaf and mash potatoes can provide some much needed, good old fashioned comfort to our lives. I say it's the food we were raised on (in America anyway) and we've always liked it (whether we were willing to admit it or not). It definitely comforts the tummy and warms the soul. So here is my "cheap chic" comfort recipe contribution to the world at large.

Cheap Chic Meatloaf and Gravy

2 lbs of lean ground burger
1/4 cup finely chopped onions (1/2 med onion)
1/4 cup chopped green or red pepper (1/2 med bell pepper)
1/2 cup of bread crumbs (I use Progresso brand)
2 eggs
2 tbs of tomatoe sauce (from 8 oz can, below) or ketchup
1 tsp of Italian seasoning
1-2 cloves of chopped/minced garlic
1/4 tsp each Salt and Pepper
1 8 ounce can tomatoe sauce
1 packet of beef gravy mix or a jar/can of beef gravy (any brand)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In a large bowl, using your hands with a little water on them, mix the first nine ingredients together just enough to blend. Do not over mix, this can make your meatloaf tough. Form meat mixture into an oblong loaf and place it in an oil coated casserole dish or crockpot (depending on how it will be cooked). Spread the 8 ounces of canned tomatoe sauce over the loaf to coat it. Bake (covered) in a 375 degree oven for 1 and 1/2 hours or cook in crockpot on high for 4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours.

Note: Personally I like my meatloaf cooked in the crockpot. It is much more tender and moist when it's done! Just slap it together put it in the crock and forget about it for many hours till it's done. Also, it creates a comforting aroma in the house all day! Sometimes I mix a splash of red wine in the tomatoe sauce that I use to coat the meatloaf with and sprinkle Italian seasonings on the top! ooh la la!

To make gravy I prepare the beef gravy packet, jar or can according to the directions, then I add the juices from the cooked meatloaf. This makes a delicious gravy to top any type of potatoes. I especially like the boiled red potatoes with the skins left on.

This meatloaf also makes an awesome sandwich for the next day. Spread a little mayo on a couple of slices of sourdough bread (or bread of you choice) then cut a couple of 1/2 inch slices of meatloaf and place between the bread with a little salt and pepper. This makes a rustic little gourmet sandwich!

Tootles, Stacey

To Market To Market!

Grocery shopping can be a real challenge when you don't have much money. Especially when you have champagne taste on a "no name" brand budget. I like the finer things in life like the best cuts of meat, freshest fruits and vegetable, gourmet breads and yes, good wine. So how do I shop on a tight (very tight) budget without feeling depressed and deprived? Well I've developed a few methods that I will share with you. First of all I pay close attention to the local grocery store ads that come in the mail each week. Then I plan my menus accordingly. I shop at the local farmer's market for fruits and vegetables which can literally be half the price of those in the grocery stores. When I have enough money up front, I stock up on meat by buying the large packages at Costco and breaking them up into smaller (approx. 1 lb.) packages using ziplock bags. I store these in the freezer for future meals. A large package of burger yields about six, 1 lb. packages. A large package of chicken breasts yields about three packages with four breasts per package. The price per pound is significantly lower than buying the small packages at the grocery store. Those of you on monthly fixed incomes can stock up on meat for the month. Then shop weekly for veges and sides, etc.. (on sale of course). I happen to love sourdough bread but wow, it can be expensive so I get the fresh baked loafs from the bakery at the grocery store for a third the cost of packaged breads. It stays fresh for about three or four days, due to no preservatives. I slice pieces by hand and make little rustic gourmet sandwiches. I also love to cook with wine. Wine seems to add another demention of flavor and richness to many recipes. The cheapest and best tasting wine that I've found for the price is Gallo Twin Valley (Chardonay, Merlot or Cabernet) in the 1.5 liter (large) bottles for about $6.99. This wine is great to cook with and is also very drinkable, while you're cooking! These are just a few tips that I hope will help you when doing your "cheap chic" grocery shopping. TTFN (ta ta for now) Stacey

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What is the deal with Goodwill? It's not!

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that Goodwill thinks it's a boutique? I swear I can find brand new stuff at Ross, TJ Max, Target and Mervyn's for cheaper than the Goodwill. I feel like boycotting this place! Especially considering what happened to me a few months ago at one of their stores. I was browsing around when I came across a cute (9x11) framed picture of a teacup. I'm not that into teacups, but for 6 bucks, what the heck. I can hang it in my back bedroom or bathroom or "re-gift" it or something. Anyway, so I go to the register feeling all proud of my new found treasure. I wait in line behind about six people (one who doesn't smell so good). I finally get up to the register and the lady behind the counter gives me the once over and says "Oh no, this price tag must be wrong". I say (in my nicest voice) "Oh, well that's the price tag that is on there". She says, "hold on a minute" then she makes a phone call to the back room. Soon a little man comes out (looking like an oompa loompa) and takes the picture from me without a word and returns to the back room. I stand there waiting for about 5 minutes while this lady helps other customers in the mean time. Then the little man returns and without a word hands me the picture with a new price tag, for twice as much! Then the lady behind the counter says "There, that's better". Better? Better for who?! Anyway I should have just said right then and there, "forget about it" (in my best mafia accent), but instead I bought it because it was still a pretty good deal. But the whole situation just irritates me! I should have just walked away on the principle of it. Anyway, the bottom line is this cheap chic diva is not advocating the Goodwill as a cheap chic source! Except for maybe the occasional clothing items such as jeans, classic shirts, etc... or a cheaply priced houseware (but remember the oompa loompa can change the price at any time). You're better off going to a flea market, other thrift stores (St. Vincent de Paul's is great), garage sales and the above named retail stores! You certainly won't be seeing me at "The Will" anytime soon! Happy shopping ya'll!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ah, The Cheap Chic Lifestyle!

This is my first post, so welcome everyone to my Cheap Chic Lifestyle Blog. This is the place where you will learn the exciting art of "cheap chic living". No matter what your income level be it rich or poor (and I'm talking busted) or somewhere in between, you can live a life of sophistication, style and grace on very, very little money! I've done it, I'm doing it, and doggonit' I know what it takes! Stay tuned for "cheap chic" shopping tips, menus, recipes, home decor, party planning (yes, you can have a party when you're broke), fashion, beauty (you can be beautiful when you're broke), arts, entertainment, health and inspiration! By the way, you don't have to be broke to read this blog! Just thought I'd make that clear!